The Hilton Head Christian Academy football team will go for a third consecutive SCISAA Class 2-A state championship this Saturday in Columbia, where the Eagles will take on a Florence Christian team in the midst of an 11-game win streak.
The Lowcountry is fairly familiar with the Eagles of Hilton Head Island, but what about the Eagles from the Pee Dee?
Lou Bezjak covers Florence Christian for the Florence Morning News. He recently talked to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette about this weekend's game at Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson Stadium and what the Eagles must do to earn a victory.
Question: The Eagles have spent all week talking about stopping a pair of Florence Christian's offensive dynamos. Just who are these guys and how tough will it be for Hilton Head Christian to contain them?
Answer: Gordon Washington and Alex James are the two guys who make the offense go. Washington has rushed for almost 2,500 yards and James is just a sophomore and is home run hitter that can score any time he gets the ball. They line James up all over the place, and it makes it tough for teams to get a tendency where he will be.
Q: Hilton Head Christian has built its success largely on the ground this season, highlighted by quarterback Brad Meccariello and tailback Deo'Vonte Doe. How will Florence Christian try to slow these seniors down?
A: It will be tough. I think they will try to clog the running lanes and let their linebackers make tackles. Coach (Neil) Minton compares Doe to Gordon Washington, so he knows what it's like to try and game plan for someone like that. I think Meccariello will be tougher to stop since he is such a dual threat.
Q: We've heard about Florence Christian's two great running backs. But is there another player Hilton Head Christian fans should look out for who could give their team fits?
A: Taylor Lee is a guy that might cause trouble for the Hilton Head Christian offensive line. He is 6-foot-3 but only 175 pounds. But he plays the game at a different speed and passion. He is so disruptful that coach Minton won't let him go up against Florence Christian's first team offensive line because no one can block him. He has 117 tackles and 15 sacks, including four against Thomas Heyward.
Q: The Eagles are going for their third straight state championship and are appearing in their fifth straight title game overall. Will that experience give Hilton Head Christian any sort of edge over a Florence Christian team that hasn't seen the same playoff success?
A: I definitely think Hilton Head Christian's experience is definitely a plus, but FC coach Neil Minton won a state title two years ago at Colleton Prep and was an assistant on a few others there. The players and coaches will be at ease I think, feeding off his experience in this kind of environment.
Q: HHCA eliminated FCA from last year's postseason, 42-26, to advance to the state title. Has coach Neil Minton's team talked about that at all? Is there revenge on the minds of those in Florence?
A: No revenge factor, I don't think. I think the only thing on the minds of players and coaches is winning the school's first state title. Coach Minton has a great respect for what Hilton Head Christian has accomplished and wants his program to get to that place. In order to do that, they need to win games like these.
Q: Finally, who wins and why?
A: Florence Christian wins. I think their physical play on the offensive and defensive lines will be huge, and Washington and James will break off some big plays in the second half.
SCISAA CLASS 2-A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Who: Hilton Head Christian Academy vs. Florence Christian
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Charlie W. Johnson Stadium, Benedict College, Columbia
Cost: $8 adults, $4 students, $10 parking